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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 202 - 02/25/13

Holy Toy
Psychic Overdrive
Witchwood Records

There has been little activity in the Holy Toy camp during the last couple of decades, but at least two great concerts in the Oslo area in the last five or six years, fronted by Polish ex-refugee Andrej Nebb, of course, and also featuring original member Lars Pedersen, have signalled hope of more vitality. Holy Toy used to be the only real contender in the experimental, industrial new wave class to come out of Norway (and Poland) in the early 1980s. Still, the news of a brand new Holy Toy album, recorded in Norway and Poland in 2012 by the two aforementioned members, was quite a surprise. It's the first original album since the early rap-experimental (in a Norwegian context, that is) Dummy Cruise Missile Wanted For Artistic Purposes in 1989, not counting the compilations Yes And No (also 1989, with previously unreleased recordings) and Dokument (1994, mainly previously released songs). But, 23 and a half years is a long time. Can the current duo manage to fulfil any expectations?

After quite a few spins the answer is a definite yes. Psychic Overdrive ranks among the most accessible, interesting and greatest efforts of the entire career of Mr. Nebb and Pedersen. Not everything here is that easy accessible, but they avoid the massive noise experiments of the albums from the mid 1980s. When the duo utilizes noisy expressions, the noises only represent short elements in melodic settings. The music ranges immensely, from the short careful folk-inspired opening song "Na Cześć Ksiçdza Baki I", to the heavy distorted guitar accompaniment of the closing ditto "Na Cześć Ksiçdza Baki II" and "Europa". "The Little Boy Lost" is a suspiciously calm song, very moody, almost a straight ballad with hardly any unrest underneath the surface. "Bambino Bombs" is the only track that sounds quite noisy throughout. Though it's done in a playful way, with a rocky beat as the basis and melody for the better part, even with some moody choir vocals in between.

Apart from the aforementioned, the tracks that work best are the ones with lots of contrasts. "Spacy Ziemniak" starts with careful flickering organ interspersed with occasional discreet heavy distorted guitar blasts. Andrej sings in a sacral monkish way. A piano escalates the atmosphere before mayhem is let loose for a little while until the sacral opening returns and it all ends in quite peaceful harmony with church bells. And it works, believe me! "Tarantula" is another contrasted ditty that starts from nothing with a distant perverted acoustic blues guitar before the main part of the song, that sounds much rockier and straighter with organ outbursts in a guitar way and percussion all over before it fades out very much like it started. On "Mroczny Hymn" both Lars and Andrej saw away on a fiddle in quite an unscholared and folky way; hypnotic and fascinating.

It's not always easy to discern Holy Toy from DePress. Both bands are of course fronted by Andrej Nebb. Very much so. While DePress used to be the relatively straight guitar, bass and drums based punkish rock band of the new wave of the early 1980s, Holy Toy used to be a more gloomy experimental band, using keyboards to a much larger extent. The extrovert rock-energy outbursts of "Ciardasz", "Bellatrix" and especially "The Garden Of Love" could easily have been adapted into DePress songs with a bit different arrangements. But they work real well dressed in Holy Toy garments, too.

Andrej has written some of the lyrics along with the two Polish poets Czeslaw Milosz and Witkazy and English William Blake, no less. Three of Blake's contributions have been translated, though. The songs are sung in Polish throughout with only one exception as far as I can comprehend. In addition to singing, Andrej only plays bass on one track and violin on another. Apart from a small guest appearance, everything else is played by Lars, very much in the same way as he has done on many of his solo albums as When. Only it works even better here than on most When albums. I still reckon Holy Toy's debut album Warszawa from 1982 as the best Norwegian album ever. I guess Psychic Overdrive might have made an almost as strong impression had it been released 30 years ago. It's lighter, less restrained and less groundbreaking, though groundbreaking all the same. Mr. Nebb and Pedersen seem to enjoy each others company more now than ever; the production has a light, effortless, playful mood all over that urges repetitive playing. And the doll on the Andrej Nebb designed cover is not very different from the one on Holy Toy's debut 12" EP Perfect Day from the summer of 1982. Makes one wonder...

Holy Toy live in 2013, at the release party of the album mid February, was a different matter, though. The duo was augmented by a guitarist Nils-Arne Øvergård and bassist Morten Burud. Most of the songs were clad in a thick porridge of noise. I'm less disposed to that kind of thing now than 30 years ago. I think I'll stick to the studio version of the band in the future. But with Nebb and Pedersen one never knows...

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You may also want to check out our Holy Toy article/review: Warszawa (remastered).

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